Recordings of Bach Cantatas
General Discussions - Part 5: 2001
Continue from Part 4: Year 2000
Brian Minsk wrote (January 4, 2001):
I am only recently introducing myself to the cantatas -- which recordings do you consider superlative? I am more interested in suggestions for individual recordings and not complete sets.
Any opinions on the 5-CD set of cantatas conducted by Winschermann on Philips?
Philip Peters wrote (January 4, 2001):
(To Brian Minsk) Buy them immediately. They're true gems, almost all of them.
Andrew Oliver wrote (January 4, 2001):
(To Brian Minsk) Hello Brian, and welcome. I can only echo what Peter said about the Winschermann. Buy them, if you don't already have them.
Jane Newble wrote (January 4, 2001):
(To Brian Minsk) Personally I love the Winschermann set, especially Elly Ameling with BWV 199. The last CD in it has all sorts of lovely surprises (sinfonias etc.)
The other CD's I would not want to be without are:
Philippe Herreweghe - "Wir danken dir Gott" - (BWV 29, BWV 119, BWV 120) HMC-901690; "Mit Fried und Freud" (BWV 8, BWV 125, BWV 138) HMC-901659
La Petite Bande - BWV 82, BWV 49, BWV 58 (with Klaus Mertens & Nancy Argenta) ACC-9395D
Aafje Heynis - BWV 169 & BWV 170 Philips 438 772-2
There are lots more I would not want to be without, but one has to stop somewhere :) You will have a wonderful time of discovery ahead of you!
John Downes wrote (January 4, 2001):
Jane Newble wrote:
< There are lots more I would not want to be without, but one has to stop somewhere :) >
Are you really, really sure about that :-)
Jane Newble wrote (January 4, 2001):
(To John Downes) Well, I thought I was, but I'm beginning to wonder now :)
Kris Shapar wrote (January 4, 2001):
(To Brian Minsk) 2 of Cantata BWV 82, namely Hans Hotter's (EMI) and Mack Harrell's (RCA, but apparently out of print) version. Congratulations on entering this wonderful world!
Cem Tural wrote (April 21, 2001):
I have listened to a few cantatas from Richter, and I think the performances were very good. Now I am looking for a CD set that contains the complete cantatas. Is there such a compilation from Richter? If not, who is the best performer for cantatas?
Herbert Anton Kellner wrote (April 22, 2001):
[To Cem Tural] To my knowledge, teher is no complete set of cantatas by Richter. The classics are the series by Gustav Leonhardt / N. Harnoncourt.
The great "news" : the excellent Cantata series by Maasaki Suzuki, but by far not yet compeled.
Favourite cantata CDís
David Harbin wrote (April 25, 2001):
I am very new to Bach cantatas and would appreciate your expert advice!
I have started off with a few recordings including Parrott (+Easter, Acsention, Magnificat) Herreweghe and Huggett.
Where should I go from here? Are there one or two canata CDS you would recommmend as all round favourites? I like period instuments and a warm, resonant NATURALLY BALANCED acoustic.
Many thanks indeed
Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 25, 2001):
(To David Harbin) Well these are my suggestion:
M. Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan - Cantatas vol.10 (BWV 179, BWV 105, BWV 186) [for me the best volume until now ];
P. Herreweghe, Collegium Vocale, Andreas Scholl - Cantatas for Alto (BWV 170, BWV 54, BWV 35) [a must for everybody ].
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 26, 2001):
(To David Harbin) I don't know the Suzuki set at all, but I heartily endorse the Andreas Scholl and the great alto cantatas recommendation. I can only differ from Riccardo is not daring to ever say that anything is a must for all. What I love others hate. And we all know that about one another, even we who have a common love.
Aryeh Oron wrote (April 26, 2001):
(To David Harbin) Welcome to the Bach Cantatas Mailing List and to the world of recorded Bach Cantatas.
I suggest that you first read the Introduction in the Home Page of Bach Cantatas Website: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/
Then go to the following page in the Website: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Recordings-1996.htm In this page you will find various discussions about recordings of Bach Cantatas in General, including answers to questions of people like you, who are doing their first steps in this enormously big, wonderfully rich and endlessly satisfying world (There are several pages about this topic, but they are inter-linked).
Matthew Westphal wrote (April 27, 2001):
(To David Harbin) I'm curious about how you liked the Parrott and Herreweghe - what did you think?
The only recording I'd recommend that hasn't already been mentioned is the disc entitled "Actus Tragicus" by Cantus Cölln on Harmonia Mundi. It won (by a rather large margin, we're told) the voting on the Bach Recordings list for the Best Release of Bach Year 2000.
Vesna wrote (April 28, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) Your suggestions are really precious for me. I haven't those albums, but, since totaly I trust your musical feeling, be sure that I'm gonna try to
find it as soon as possible. I'm aware it's terrible to say, but, my favorite Bach albums are mostly not HIP recordings (though, paradoxaly, now I prefere to listen live Herreweghe). Somehow, I find old generation (non-HIP generation) of Bach's singers incomparable with the new ones. Who can replace today one Dietrich Fischer-Diskau, Edith Mathis, Peter Schreier, Marga Höffgen or Arleen Augér? So, I think it's worthwhile (if you don't have it yet) to find those CDís which, so far, stays my favorite recordings (though, now I prefere to listen live Herreweghe).
1. Karl Richter : Cantatas BWV 51, BWV 93, BWV 129 (Mathis, Reynolds, Schreirer, Fischer-Diskau)- Archiv produktion-1972/1975
2. Karl Richter : Cantata BWV 140, Magnificat BWV 243 (Mathis, Stader, Töpper, Schreirer, Haefliger, Fischer-Diskau) - Deutsche Grammophon - 1962
3. Peter Schreier : Secular cantatas IV (Bach, Made in Germany, Berlin classics ; vol. VII/4)
4. Kurt Thomas : Weihnachtsoratorium BWV 248 (Bach, Made in Germany, Berlin classics ; vol. II/6)
I know my choise smells on dust, sounding conservative and out of time, but since I'm tending to be be an openminded person I'm ready to accept any of your suggestions.
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 29, 2001):
(To Vesna) Du bist die Lenz, bestimmt,
IMVHO, obviously everyone should expose himself to some of the great older performances as well as some of the current performances and I am sure that in each category we each have our own preferences. Today, as I severely culled all my LPís, I made sure that I saved c. 10 Rössl-Majdan Bach cantatas and Easter Oratorio. Just too great if not HIP in much of a way. On the other hand, I disposed of many famed old things that I simply don't listen to and, since I culled from c. 14 LP boxes to c. 3 max., I had to make choices. Long live small storage units like the CD and the CD-ROM.
A beginners query
Ellen L Lienhard wrote (June 10, 2001):
Hello - I am a new subscriber to this Cantata group because a friend of mine suggested I would enjoy the discussions as a place to learn about the Bach Cantatas. I am not a musician, just a music lover of many (50+) years standing and have recently begun exploring Bach beyond the ubiquitous organ transcriptions. If one has never heard a Cantata, whwould one start? Just randomly get a cd of some of them or go in some order? Given the usually erudite level of your discussions, would it be possible to take a moment to guide a newcomer in the right direction? Also, is there any recommended reading that would assist in learning about the Cantatas?
Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 10, 2001):
(To Ellen Lienhard) Perhaps start with what the Bach Recordings mailing list voted as the best recording of the year, last year - Cantus Cöln's recording of the Actus Tragicus, on Harmonia Mundi.
Marie Jensen wrote (June 10, 2001):
(To Ellen Lienhard) Welcome to our group. I have been a Bach lover many years myself; Liebhaber, not an expert. It is imposible to understand or have a general view over this patchwork of over 200 cantatas with more than 1000 movements. No patch is more important than the other one, as every cantata belongs to a certain Sunday or Holiday. A good idea is to follow the church year. If you are a Christian, you know the gospel of the day in advance, and you can follow the list discussions, which follow the same thread.
If you want to have have all cantatas at once, there are three options.
1) Rilling from the 70es and 80es played on modern instruments.
2) Harnoncourt , one of the pioneers of historial performances and instruments. He uses boy sopranos.
They are very seldom able to sing the difficult arias properly.
3) Leusink which made the complet cycle in 15 months in 1999 and 2000, also a HIP performance.
Some like the fresh sound. There was not time for many rehearsals. Others don't like the alto Sytse Buwaldas yodeling timbre. Leusink can be bought very cheap. www.zweitausendundeins.de
At least two other HIP groups are in the middle of making the cycle now.
1) Ton Koopman who is planning to complete it in 2004
2) Masaaki Suzuki who is moving very slowly and carefully along with about 3 CDís a year.Every detail is rehearsed to perfection and sounds divine. Some think it is too perfect, and when will he reach the end?
Then there is the old Richter performances from the 70es with lots of enthusiasm and a big choir and orchestra and Herreweghe whose style reminds me of Suzukis perhaps even more beautiful. Richter only recorded about 70 of the cantatas .I don't know if Herreweghe will record them all.
Of couse many other performers could be mentioned. I don't have them all, but I guess Aryeh has.
My advice is: Get the Leusink version. Then you have all the cantatas without getting ruined, and then buy a volume now and then from one of the others. Then perhaps you will find your favourite and have always something to compare with.
There is no "in-every-way-perfect" winner among these options. Oh, yes Bach of course! So another advice could be: Buy a random cantata CD. You will never be disappointed.
Charles Francis wrote (June 10, 2001):
[To Ellen L Lienhard] I would suggest you get hold of the double-CD "6 Favourite Cantatas" with the Bach Ensemble conducted by Joshua Rifkin on the L'Oiseau-Lyre label. It contains cantatas BWV 147, BWV 80, BWV 8, BWV 140, BWV 51, BWV 78, giving nearly 137 minutes of music at a good price.
In contrast to the traditional interpretations (Richter, Rilling etc.) and the numerous so-called "Historically Informed Performances" (Harnoncourt, Leonhard, Gardiner, Koopman, Suzuki, Herreweghe, Leusink etc.), Rifkin does not use a massed choir, but rather a quartet of soloists. He has presented compelling arguments that these are precisely the resources Bach had at his disposal for performing his cantatas.
Rifkins' approach allows Bachís orchestral writing to be clearly heard. This is also true in the arias where the singers are treated just like any other instrument (as Scheibe noted) and do not attempt to dominate as is so often the case in other performances. So apart from recitatives, there is little homophonic notion of orchestra accompanying singers, but rather true polyphony where all actors are of equal importance. In fact, Bach had a nice little sideline selling his cantata texts to those interested in following the words.
Michael Grover wrote (June 11, 2001):
(To Ellen L Lienhard) Welcome to the world of Bach's cantatas.
The sheer number of cantatas that are available, with hundreds (if not thousands!) of different recordings, is definitely overwhelming to a newcomer. I have been there myself, very recently! Perhaps you are like me and don't want to spend the money on a complete set of the cantatas right off the bat. For better or for worse, here are some of the most well-known and beloved cantatas that you could start out with.
BWV 80, Ein Feste Burg -- based on the famous Reformation hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God"
BWV 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben -- contains the famous chorale, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"
BWV 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme -- contains the "Sleepers, Awake" melody in the 4th movement
BWV 106, Gottes Zeit... -- beautiful music throughout, including a wonderful flute/recorder duet in the opening sonatina
Some other common favorites are BWV 4, BWV 21, BWV 61, BWV 78... and many, many more!
As far as performance preference, it will be best to sample all the different styles at least once to find out what sounds best to you. Do you like big choirs and orchestras? Try Rilling or Richter. Do you like smaller, more intimate choirs? Try Gardiner, Leusink, Koopman, Suzuki, Harnoncourt, or Leonhardt. Do you like hearing individual singers rather than choirs? Try Parrott, Rifkin, Thomas, or Junghaenel. (These categories are, of course, not absolute - Thomas, for instance goes back and forth between using a choir of multiple singers and going one-voice-per-part (OVPP), but again, these are hopefully good general suggestions for the beginner.)
For more information, be sure and visit the Bach Cantatas Website at
And for recommended reading, just check out any of Aryeh's weekly posts. He ususally references several books about the cantatas there.
I hope this post wasn't too lengthy and that it was helpful!
Ellen L Lienhard wrote (June 11, 2001):
Thanks to all who responded to my query. I now have a better sense of how to proceed. I have never heard OVPP and will certainly sample this. Special thanks to Michael for pointing out where my favorite old chestnuts can be found.
Now for some extended listening....
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 12, 2001):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< "Perhaps start with what the Bach Recordings mailing list voted as the best recording of the year, last year - Canttus Coln's recording of the Actus Tragicus, on Harmonia Mundi". >
As has been beautifully expressed here by many of the posters on this query, no one will respond the same as another, whether one be a newcomer to this world or a long time Liebhaber (how happy that that word has not acquired the bad connotations of amateur). As for me, this best recording voted thus is rather boring and uninteresting
(with all respect to its intentions and those who respond to it). It is one extreme. And operatic type of performance is another extreme. Cantus Cölln is better for pre-Bach IMVHO.
Complete Cantatas / The first Harnoncourt-Leonhardt HIP record / Complete Cantatas & HIP
Thomas Boyce wrote (June 19, 2001):
Say someone named Tom Boyce were to get the notion that he needed the complete Cantatas of J. S. Bach... Would he go wrong buying the set on Teldec?
Michael Grover wrote (June 19, 2001):
(To Thomas Boyce) Do you subscribe to the BachCantatas mailing list as well as the BachRecordings list? There is always lots of good information shared there about the different setsof cantata recordings. Also check out the cantatas page for more information: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/
The most commonly recommended set to buy lately has been the Leusink set on Brilliant Classics simply because of the inexpensive price.
I don't have the Teldec set myself so that's all the recommendation I can give.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 19, 2001):
(To Thomas Boyce) Not at all. While not all the performances are the best, enough of them are. Go for it.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 19, 2001):
(To Thomas Boyce) Some of those are good, and some are rough. It was a pioneering set. I like it, and bought four more of its volumes yesterday. But I like Suzuki's and Herreweghe's series even better.
The LP version of the Teldec series had the advantage of including scores.
Herreweghe's choirs are in some of the Leonhardt recordings late in the Teldec series. That project was a good springboard for his own career.
Thomas Boyce wrote (June 19, 2001):
(To Bradley Lehman) And Rilling?
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 19, 2001):
(To Thomas Boyce) <yawn>
Donald Satz wrote (June 19, 2001):
(To Bradley Lehman) I agree with Brad on the Suzuki and Herreweghe Bach cantata recordings. They, along with Rifkin's recordings for Decca, are my favored sets. I believe that Rifkin has recorded a new disc of Bach cantatas for Dorian. I've read one review in Classics Today which was not complimentary, but I'll still be obtaining it; I have to hear for myself.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 19, 2001):
(To Michael Grover) I have both. The difference is that the Teldec has better overall musicianship. However, there are rough edges on the BC which are quite compelling; in a way, I get more of an authentic feel from them, thinking that the amateur choir is closer to the musicians Bach had.
Philip Peters wrote (June 19, 2001):
(To Thomas Boyce) Itīs a relatively early HIP set. Much is done smoother these days as regards, for instance, the quality of the authentic instrument players. Also you have to accept the boy sopranos which sometimes are great but sometimes not at all. This said I regard the Teldec set as mandatory. The other complete HIP set is by Leusink on Brillant and itīs dirt cheap but also lacking a lot.
If you want a non-HIP complete set there is Rilling on Hänssler which is also controversial but IMO as good as the other two. I think youīd better buy the Teldec, it will cost you some money though.
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 19, 2001):
Uniting several threads here, I'll recommend the very first record that Leonhardt and Harnoncourt ever did on period instruments and in HIP style. There are parts of it that are heartbreakingly beautiful. Alfred Deller sings the Bach cantatas BWV 170 and BWV 54 and the Agnus Dei of the B minor mass. Michel Piguet plays oboe. Leonhardt's on organ, and Harnoncourt is one of the six string players.
On LP it's Vanguard 550, recorded May 1954. On CD it's 8106, volume 7 of the Alfred Deller Edition.
It's one of my favorite Bach records ever, of anything.
Thomas Braatz wrote (June 19, 2001):
IMO HIP is an artificial term that shifts with the views of the person using it. A professor I had many years ago would have called HIP a 'weasel' word because it does not let itself 'get pinned down.' Anyone doing a doctoral dissertation would have found him very demanding in this regard. Can you imagine trying to defend yourself, your dissertation including the term, "HIP" before a panel of professors who thought similarly (and probably correctly)? They would have cut your defense of this term to shreds.
I think Don might be a bit closer to the truth by holding on to the term used by recording companies: 'Period (or authentic [read 'copies of originals'] Instrument Performance.' But even this term has to be taken with a grain of salt (or are we speaking of a block of deer salt here?) When the Teldec Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata series carefully lists the origins of every instrument used (I can't think of any other recording companies that have done this), you can begin to judge for yourself what a mixture of originals and copies exists out there in the recording world. Isn't it possible that the copy might even be an improvement over the original? Yes, and no. Take for instance the violins in this set with Alice Harnoncourt at the top of the list. Read the names and dates of the violins used. Talk to an excellent violin maker and repairman to find out how original these violins really are, how many times they have undergone serious modifications (wood removed through shortening, wood added in such a way that it can not easily be removed without damaging the instrument irreparably)! There is no way that any of these violins could have survived without being played, and therefore modified to suit the need for ever-increasing volume and brilliance. Or do you think these instruments were locked away in a museum without seeing the light of day until Harnoncourt/Leonhardt came along? The bow and how it was used is not the only thing that affects the sound of these 'period instruments.' What, then, if the present-day copies of these original violins were made of copies that were already modified, as I think might be the case. Does this mean that probably less than 50% the violins (and all the string instruments that were treated similarly) in a period instrument performance may actually be labeled as truly period instruments? Probably.
I partially agree with Brad that the artist's conception of the performance based on experience and knowledge may be a key element here. Obviously lacking either one can lead to gross distortions that are evident in the Teldec and Brilliant Classics Bach cantata series: Harnoncourt as an instrumentalist (cellist) in large orchestras, at one point began specializing in music of the baroque period, but no amount of studying was able to give him the expertise necessary to work with voices and choirs. This is evident in both series. Otherwise we would not have so many problem performances in these series where voices play a prominent part. It is extremely difficult to find a single cantata in either series, where the entire cantata might be considered a successful, memorable recording. It is all a matter of pick and choose. Remember that the Teldec series took c. 20 years to record and Leusink in c. 2 years, and Gardiner tried it in one. The results of this type of rapid production are not entirely satisfactory (an understatement). It is a 'hit or miss' situation because the task overwhelms any conductor alive today.
I admire Suzuki's approach, which is not to rush through these recordings, and thus avoid creating recordings which sound musically 'cheap.' Even Koopman is coming up with a better average of 'hits' over 'misses.' [Vol. 10 was unfortunately for me a 'miss' for the most part, but Vol 11 is better.] I would recommend that anyone who is interested in acquiring any Bach cantatas do so very carefully, otherwise this individual will have cantata recordings to which he/she will not return with pleasure and anticipation (speaking from experience).
Kirk's comment: "However, there are rough edges on the BC which are quite compelling; in a way, I get more of an authentic feel from them, thinking that the amateur choir is closer to the musicians Bach had."
I don't think so, Kirk. Bach frequently was losing his best young male voices to the Dresden Opera and other such places, only because Bach could not remunerate them sufficiently. This is an indication that he was not using 'amateur voices.' The tradition of singing must have been on a much higher level of ability than we can imagine. Bach certainly would not have allowed the falsettists to perpetrate on the listeners some of the horrendous vocal sounds that we hear on the Brilliant Classics series. They would have chased Bach out of town very quickly. We have copies of Bach's own assessment of the musical capabilities of his young singers, sometimes allowing them to play an instrument rather than si. I think that this type of 'ear' is lacking in many of the conductors who have or still are creating 'failed' vocal performances for us to listen to. They should have enough sense and reasoning powers to decide: "This performance is not worthy of Bach. I do not want it sold as recorded music representing what Bach gave to the world."
Dyfan Lewis wrote (June 20, 2001):
I'd like to put in a word for Sigiswald Kuijken and the Petite Band with Argenta and Ponseele. "Ich habe genug" BWV 82 particularly. Admittedly not complete but little gems of angelic beauty often. Many one-voice-per-part, but I think not all.
Andrew White wrote (June 20, 2001):
(To Thomas Boyce) The complete Teldec (Harnoncourt / Leonhardt) Cantatas cycle is currently available at Berkshire Record Outlet <www.broinc.com> for just under $300.
Rev. Robert A. Lawson wrote (June 20, 2001):
(To Kirk McElhearn) I respectfully disagree, for a couple of reasons. First, I don't particularly like the Harnoncourt Cantatas. If one cares about the words (and after all the cantata were written to be sermons set to music so it is very difficult to see how someone could not care about the words), there are much better choicesóTon Koopman, for example. But there is another reason, which I believe is equally important. I've found over the years that books (& records) bought in sets are hardly ever thoroughly enjoyed. A much better approach is to buy one volume at a time, play it (or read it) over and over until you are thoroughly acquainted with it, and then buy the next volume and do the same thing with that one. In this way one always has something new to look forward to, and at the same time more enjoyment is gained from each purchase. Anyway, for what it is worth, that's been my experience.
Jeff Leone wrote (June 20, 2001):
I've been keeping up with the Koopman releases. They are halfway done and overall I think it has been a pretty decent job.
Donald Satz wrote (June 20, 2001):
(To Jeff Leone) I agree with Jeff that Koopman's series has been decent and often much better than decent. However, I must be getting tired of the $50 price tag for each 3-cd set. I've had his Volume 11 on my 'to buy' list for some time and haven't bought it yet. Frankly, I prefer Suzuki's series although its completion could take the next 20 years.
Andrew White wrote (June 21, 2001):
(To Donald Satz) I agree that Koopman's series is decent / quite decent, particularly in the cantatas' more exuberant moments. But I also agree that Suzuki's slower-going cycle is superior.
Last December I decided that I was tired of dabbling with various cantata recordings, and was ready to bite the bullet and begin collecting all the sacred cantatas. I narrowed my choice down to Koopman and Suzuki. Since my university library had a number of the Koopman volumes and I already had Suzuki's first installment, I was able to compare them a bit.
By listening to Koopman's first six volumes, I was able to confirm what a number of critics have noted -- that Koopman has a flair for expressing the ebullience of Bach, particularly the Italianate elements.
But given the centrality of Bach's Lutheran spirituality and near obsession with the inevitability of death and the hope of the Christian afterlife, it seems that Suzuki comes closer (and, of course it is an issue of approximation) to the "Geist" of Bach's Kantaten-kosmos.
Suzuki makes a case for his spiritual connection to Bach in the liner notes for Volume 1 of his series. He states: " . . . [T]he God in whose service Bach laboured and the God I worship are one and the same. . . . We are fellows in faith . . ."
This is a very bold statement that Suzuki makes. And yet, regardless of how one understands Suzuki's spirituality, much in his readings of Bach contains a depth of expression -- spiritual expression, perhaps -- that Koopman generally lacks.
A case in point, for me at least, is the Ciaconna of BWV 150, "Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich." Suzuki's reading (Volume 1) is sublime, and the Bach Collegium Japan's rendering of "Christus, der uns steht zur Seiten / Hilft mir taglich sieghaft streiten" (Christ who stands beside us / Daily helps me fight victoriously) is truly an epiphany, expressing a poignancy beyond words. Koopman's reading (also Volume 1) is insipid in comparison.
It was differences like these that made me decide for Suzuki. So I rapidly (and greedily) purchased the first 13 volumes, and now, like many others, am impatiently awaiting #14.
Harry J. Steinman wrote (June 21, 2001):
< Donald Satz wrote: <snip> However, I must be getting tired of the $50 price tag
for each 3-CD set. >
BMG has several of the sets (2 - 7) for sale for as low as $9 (vol. 3) to $27 (the 4-CD vol. 7). Used to have more of the volumes; must have run out. Note, however, that some mention was made a couple years ago here on the List that the printing on the accompanying booklets was not as bright and vivid as on the "store-bought" ones. Maybe BMG got something with a weird dye lot...
In any event, if you're collecting Koopman, it's a way to save some do-re-mi.
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (June 21, 2001):
< Rev. Robert Lawson wrote: I've found over the years that books (& records) bought in sets are hardly ever thoroughly enjoyed. A much better approach is to buy one volume at a time, play it (or read it) over and over until you are thoroughly acquainted with it, and then buy the next volume and do the same thing with that one. In this way one always has something new to look forward to, and at the same time more enjoyment is gained from each purchase. Anyway, for what it is worth, that's been my experience. >
With some limits, I agree.
Each time I get a boxed set of, say, 10 or more CDís, I feel a tendency to unconciously engage in a rally to reach the last minute of the last CD, with a rather shallow appreciation of each work as a whole, singular opus. But with some discipline, you can buy the whole package and take your time for each disc, making your best effort to forget "the box".
In my case, I buy CDís almost compulsively, and it is not rare to see me on friday night with almost two dozen brand new CDís to discover. With time I imposed myself a duty: at least ONCE, I listen to each CD I get from tip to toe, with no interruptions, and not doing anything at the same time but listen. So, why would you do this instead of getting one disc at a time? Well, many times I prefer to get sets for one practical reason: it is the way to get a whole category of music from authors that otherwise would take a zillion CDs to gather, with many repetitions of recordings and works, or even unavailable recordings. Take the Cantatas or the organ works as example!! (not to mention Bach's keyboard music).
A major drawback to note about sets: heterogeneous quality of interpretations, and if it's a huge set (like H&L Cantatas), the recordings can be MANY years away, causing an obvious inconsistence in terms of expertise and focus of the interpreters. Even more, there is the risk of having the interpreters to fall into a rally to reach the last minute of the last CD!!! The pitty is that this later kind of rush has no further solutions, as it gets recorded! :-)
FEL wrote (June 21, 2001):
This is the way I listen to my cantatas. Since the complete cycles of Leonhardt/Harnoncourt and of Leusink consist of 12 boxes, I coupled each box to a month. So in January I listen to box 1, in February I listen to box 2 and so on.
During the year I listen to every cantata.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 21, 2001):
(To FEL) Gee, my Leonhardt/Harnoncourt only has 10 boxes. Are you including the secular cantatas? Nice idea, in any case.
Thomas Boyce wrote (June 21, 2001):
(To Andrew White) Thanks for your words. You definitely answered my question. Off to the record store!
John Downes (June 21, 2001):
(To Harry J. Steinman) Sorry Harry; who are BMG? Do they have a web site?
Rev. Robert A. Lawson wrote (June 21, 2001):
(To Pablo Fagoaga) Thursday of Trinity I
I agree. If one is disciplined there are numerous reasons to buthe whole set, but very often the set sits on the shelf while we engage ourselves in smaller bites of something else. Everyone has to decide for themselves what works for them. I was simply sounding a note of caution.
Harry J. Steinman wrote (June 21, 2001):
(To John Downes) Sorry for the omission: My bad!
BMG is a music club at www.bmgmusicservice.com The deal with them is you "sign up" and get 12 "free" CDs with one purchase (you are charged for postage and handling; totals aboutr $2.75 per CD). Then they offer you a new selection every month which you must decline or purchase, for as long as you're a "member" THere's a slew of promotionals as well. In the end, it works out to a good deal, I think...especially if you're trying to collect the Koopman CDs! Hope this helps. I ended up getting most all of the Koopman series from them...
By the way, if you do go the BMG route, when you're shopping for your 12 "free" CDís...make sure to use the site's browse/search functions and not simply order from their 'recommended' list....
Well, back to beating the world into submission!
The Complete Bach
David McKay wrote (July 24, 2001):
Has anybody else listened to a set of recordings of Bach works? I thought I had better listen to the Teldec set, after spending $AUS1500 on it, even though I got a $AUS700 discount.
It has been a most interesting experience. A few of the cantata recordings are a little painful, but most were enjoyable. The poor intonation was mainly solo boy sopranos, but there were a few out of tune adults [female, actually], too.
It is incredible to think that we can hear more Bach than any of his contemporaries would have been able to hear.
There are 153 CDs in the set, and it took about 15 weeks, I think.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 24, 2001):
[To Davisd McKay] Congratulations! That is quite a job.
While I don't have any "complete" sets, I do have all of his works on some 450 CDs (which obviously means several versions for many of the works). I once though of listening to every work (not every CD) in some sort of order over a period of time, but it seems daunting.
Note that there are some works that are not in the Teldec set - some early keyboard works, some organ works, etc. But you are not missing much.
However, the Haenssler set has many interesting keyboard recordings, that have often been talked about on this list, on different instruments - clavichord, lute-harpsichord, etc. These are really worth having.
Complete Bach Editions
Michael Grover wrote (July 26, 2001):
So... Those of you who own hundreds of CDs...
Which of the "complete" Bach editions that were released last year (or at other times) would you consider the best overall? Hänssler, Teldec, Brilliant... are there others?
Are the Hänssler and Teldec editions still available as complete sets rather than buying the individual discs piecemeal? If so, does anyone know where the least expensive outlet for the complete sets might be?
David McKay wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Michael Grover] I can't speak about other sets, but I have just completed listening to all 153 CDs in the Teldec set, over a period of 15 weeks.
I think it is an excellent set, and well worth the $AUD1500 I paid [which included a $AUD700 discount on the Australian price.]
Mostly the performances are very enjoyable, but there are a few occasions in 60 CDs of Bach sacred cantatas where some solo boy sopranos sound like they need more training! A couple of the cantatas are really spoiled by the out of tune singing. There was one with an out of tune adult female, but mostly the standard of performance is of a very high quality. My wife really objected to being subjected to such singing.
The flute sonatas, played on Baroque flutes, have occasional out of tuneness, which, interestingly, annoyed me, but my flute-playing wife did not find as objectionable.
The performances of the clavier works, all on harpsichord, are done by a variety of top-notch performers.
I think I am in a small group who like Ton Koopman's organ work, but I am rather ignorant in this field. Sounds good to me, but some organists have told me I am not allowed to like the 16 CDs of organ music.
The performances of the orchestral music sound quite different from my other recordings of this stuff. For example, I have heard many recordings of the Brandenburgs, but the performances here are quite different from any I have previously listened to.
I was also told I had to hate the Mass in B minor, but I don't! I have previously listened to a cheap recording conducted by Karl Münchinger, but I really enjoyed listening to the one included in the set.
Hope this helps.
Laurent Planchon wrote (July 26, 2001):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The second is a commentary (Grammophone) on Rilling's Bach Cantata Series:
"Rilling's interpretative outlook is far removed from that of his principal rivals, Harnoncourt and Leonhardt. [...] In short, Rilling's approach to Bach is an emotional one. >
This might well be (I am not familiar enough with Rilling's work to say), but the way it is written, it seems to imply that H/L's approaches (plural intended) are un-emotional ones, which is a stupid nonsense. Not hearing emotion (although one might not share it) in H or L's work would equate for me being simply deaf.
< Or if Harnoncourt/Leonhardt had not been misguided in their attempt to pursue stubbornly without much regard for musicality (there are always a few exceptions to point to) what they considered to be the ideal performance practices of the Baroque period, their Teldec series might have become a notable achievement that no collector of Bach recordings could do without. >
I believe that I am far from being the only one who thinks that Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Teldec series IS a most notable achievement that no serious collector of Bach recordings can ignore. And your claim that those gentlemen pursued stubbornly ideal performance practices without regard for musicality proves to me that you have completly misunderstood them. I would invite you to read some of H's books or even his liners notes in which he says the exact opposite of what you are associating him with.
Donald Satz wrote (July 26, 2001):
[To Laurent Planchon] I have no doubt that the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series of Bach cantatas was a pioneering effort which paved the way for many other recordings of the Bach cantatas on period instruments employing an historically informed approach. The issue of 'musiciality' of this early series is not insignificant, but I think it pales next to the mere existence of the series. Any artists who take risks and display honesty and determination in their principles deserve my admiration; Harnoncourt and Leonhardt earned this a long time ago.
Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2001):
In regard to the quote from Grammophone:
<< In short, Rilling's approach to Bach is an emotional one. >>
To which Laurent Planchon responded:
< the way it is written, it seems to imply that H/L's approaches (plural intended)are un-emotional ones, which is a stupid nonsense. Not hearing emotion (although one might not share it) in H or L's work would equate for me being simply deaf. >
I fully agree. In no way did I want to appear to support the statement in the quotation. The quotation was primarily cited for the purpose of illustrating the 'crossover' phenomenon.
Then I stated:
<< Or if Harnoncourt/Leonhardt had not had such difficulties in obtaining high quality players (some of them were excellent) who had truly mastered the instruments that they were playing, and if Harnoncourt/Leonhardt had not been misguided in their attempt to pursue stubbornly without much regard for musicality (there are always a few exceptions to point to) what they considered to be the ideal performance practices of the Baroque period, their Teldec series might have become a notable achievement that no collector of Bach recordings could do without. >>
To which Laurent Planchon responded:
< I believe that I am far from being the only one who thinks that Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Teldec series *IS* a most notable achievement that noserious collector of Bach recordings can ignore. And your claim that those gentlemen pursued stubbornly ideal performance practices without regard for musicality proves to me that you have completly misunderstood them. I would invite you to read some of H's books or even his liners notes in which he says the exact opposite of what you are associating him with. >
O, the great divide between theory and practice. My final understanding of what these men accomplished comes from listening to the results, not in attempting to understand their 'theories', which are, after all, only theories. My guess is that even Bach, if he were told that he had to read Palestrina's theories on performance practices (if such books existed) before rendering his judgement on his music, would have said, "Hogwash! Give me the score so that I can hear it in my mind. If it is good enough, I will use it with my choir, because we can all learn directly from the music." In this case, had the theories existed, they would have originated with the composer, but with H/L there is no book of theory by Bach to refer to. Everything is indirect knowledge/evidence. You must also consider that both H/L had primarily an instrumental tradition that they had grown up with and had been influenced by, they had little or no training in choral singing. Now you wish to tell me that Bach's genuine choral tradition sprang full-blown from the head of Zeus (Harnoncourt)and that I should read these theories so that my appreciation of his achievement is enhanced! To that I offer you another challenge: Join in on the weekly discussions of the Bach cantatas on the BachCantatas site. There you could offer your insight into Harnoncourt's theories and how they have enhanced the musicality of his performances.
And Don Satz stated:
< I have no doubt that the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series of Bach cantatas was a pioneering effort which paved the way for many other recordings of the Bach cantatas on period instruments employing an historically informed approach. The issue of 'musicality' of this early series is not insignificant, but I think it pales next to the mere existence of the series. Any artists who take risks and display honesty and determination in their principles deserve my admiration; Harnoncourt and Leonhardt earned this a long time ago. >
To which I state:
In no way did I wish to detract from the achievement of the H/L series, which, if I can risk saying this with only having heard a small portion of the Leusink series, deserves greater acclamation than the latter series. But musicality still remains a very important issue, if I am to derive great pleasure and deeper understanding from hearing a performance. As you stated: "musicality is not insignificant."
After all is said and done, it is the end result that matters. To quote Duke Ellington once again: "If it sounds good, it is good." This I will extend to mean: If you have a good musical ear and have given not only a cursory listening to the H/L set, you might be able to hear the imbalance that I am speaking about: Theory overriding musicality, or, to put it another way: form over content. Perhaps this is one reason that Bach did not attempt to write about music theory and practice and left that sort of thing to others (Mattheson, his son, C.P.E.Bach etc.)
Single favourite cantatas disc?
Peter Bright wrote (November 9, 2001):
OK, we're getting towards that time of year so how about a light-hearted query: If members were to choose just one single cantatas disc as their overall favourite, which would it be?
My choice (which will surely change overnight) is a bit of a cheat, because it also includes the Magnificat, but it is Karl Richter's CD on Deutsche Gramophon with the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra. It also includes cantatas BWV 63 and BWV 65. It is the former cantata that seems to shout down from the Heavens, and features Edith Mathis, Anna Reynolds, Peter Schrier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Quite surprisingly it is a relatively late recording (1972), a period when Richter's approach had already started falling out of favour with the critics.
I remember when I first heard this recording of BWV 63 (particularly the first and last choruses with the astonishing choral and trumpet interplay), it reminded me of the kind of excitement I felt as a teenager when I first heard Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Let it Bleed and the like. A real rush then which I still get whenever I put it on...
If I were allowed a second choice it would surely go to one of the Suzuki discs (God only knows which one though...).
Juozas Rimas wrote (November 9, 2001):
I don't have a favorite cantatas disc but if D. Fischer is singing a cantata/aria I will accept it as the best rendition right away Ė without searching for the better ones. The instruments or other singers can be better in other renditions but if a voice part is sung by Fischer, one can rest assured about it.
My favorite solo Bach works must be Fischer's arias from the 1958 St. Matthew's Passion (BWV 244).
Michael Grover wrote (November 9, 2001):
I don't have many cantata discs to choose from (only 11!) but this is mine:
Jeffrey Thomas and the American Bach Soloists BWV 78, BWV 80, BWV 140
Here's my review of BWV 78 from this disc:
Francine Ren Hall wrote (November 10, 2001):
Well, that's hard because we love so many Bach works! However, last night I replayed my Mauersberger Leipzig Classics CD from the 1960's, Cantata BWV 80, and it sounded so beautiful that I wanted to stand up and shout, "Hey, world, look what you're missing!" I also had a tremendous urge to point my speakers outside my window and let the entire neighborhood hear it too! It's festive, thrilling, Bach at his best, and with the Thomasschule boys as back-up, how can one go wrong! And the aria for soprano and violincello is so beautiful! I know "Ein Feste Burg" is very popular, but I don't mind being a "philistine" here! (lol) warmest wishes-- Francine
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (November 10, 2001):
In my case, if I had to restrain myself to just ONE Cantatas CD, without a glimpse of hesitation I would take Kantaten BWV 4 (Christ lag in Todesbanden), BWV 82 (Ich habe genug) and BWV 56 (Ich will den Kreutzstab gerne tragen) sung by Dietrich F. Dieskau and the Münchener Bach Choir, with the Münchener Bach Orchester directed by Karl Richter. It's on Archiv, guess it was round the late sixties. Simply sublime, even compared with the same set of cantatas on Archiv, with Fischer Dieskau BUT under the earlier (fifties) Fritz Lehmann's batute. Undoubtly, the Dieskau-Richter tandem was special. Usually I dig HIP readings the most, but this guys really make a major point in favour of the importance of effectiveness. I think they are FAR ahead of the others in terms of expression of the texts.
By the way, in the argentinian magazine "Revista Clásica", I read about some "avant-grade" performances of BWV 82 and BWV 199 taking place in London. They are sung by Lorraine Hunt, but the original bit is that the Cantatas are performed in a rather teatrical, or lyrical way, more like "mini-operas". In fact Peter Sellars happens to be the Régisseur!!!! In the review, they say it was a quite interesting experience, for instance, with Hunt singing Ich habe genug as a dying patient in a hospital, representing her last 25 minutes of life. Sounds more that interesting. Does anyone had the opportunity to attend this performances, or have more details about them??
Riccardo Nughes wrote (November 10, 2001):
2 titles from me :
Cantatas for solo alto, Scholl, Herreweghe, Harmonia mun(BWV 170, BWV 54, BWV 35);
Cantatas BWV 9, BWV 94 & BWV 187, La petite bande, DHM.
A favourite cantata? Really hard to say, but I've always loved BWV 76.
Donald Satz wrote (November 10, 2001):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Right on - that Scholl/Herreweghe disc is superb with both artists in peak form. I don't think I've ever heard Scholl sound so good.
Juozas Rimas wrote (November 10, 2001):
Simply sublime, even compared with the same set of cantatas on Archiv, with Fischer Dieskau BUT under the earlier (fifties) Fritz Lehmann's batute. Undoubtly, the Dieskau-Richter tandem was special. Usually I dig HIP readings the most, but this guys really make a major point in favour of the importance of effectiveness. I think they are FAR ahead of the others in terms of expression of the texts.
There is an objective reason to that: Fischer is German. And knowing the language as a native speaker is of course better to sing expressively (especially if the composer was composing with the text in mind).
The German singer Schwarzkopf once said something like "we are just happy that the best songs are written for German texts".
Jim Morrison wrote (November 11, 2001):
I don't listen to the Cantatas enough to have favorites, (something that I hope to correct in the coming years) but if I did search systematically for favorites, I imagine they would be by Parrott, Herreweghe or Rifkin. The first cantata sets that I seriously listened to were by them, which may have had a formative influence on my preferences. (However I like to hope that it simply means I have good taste. ;-)
I know I've said it many times on the list before, but I think the Rifkin lead duet from BWV 78 is phenomenal. I've never heard the Thomas version. But if you like Thomas in general, and I do, then you might also want to track down the two discs for the price of one set by Rifkin that includes BWV 8, BWV 51, BWV 78, BWV 80, BWV 140, BWV 147.
Joost wrote (November 11, 2001):
It is a difficult choice, but in the end I decided my single favourite cantatas disc is the first of a set of three with all cantatas requiring a violoncello piccolo. Christophe Coin is conducting, and playing the violoncello piccolo as well. This disc has the cantatas BWV 180, BWV 49 and BWV 115. The solo parts are sung by Barbara Schlick (who was still at her almost best at the time), Andreas Scholl (simply divine), Christoph Prégardien (beautiful as always) and Gotthold Schwarz (the lesser known of the four, quite good though). Mr Schwarz also directs the Concerto Vocale Leipzig, a fine transparant choir. The Ensemble Baroque de Limoges is Coin's own orchestra, of which I like the winds in particular; not to take anything away from the strings though.
This is one of the very few HIP cantata recordings using a real church organ, a well preserved Silbermann organ, still at its original pitch (A=460), so the organist had to transpose down his part.
All performers are gathered around the organ, on the gallery. This caused the recording crew some problems, which they managed to overcome quite well. The performances are focussed and relaxed at the same time, and one feels the musicians really enjoyed themselves. This may be the reason why this disc is my primus inter pares.
Continue on Part 6: Year 2002
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